Much remains the same, but especially in rural development there are innovations from an environmental point of view and also differences to the original proposal of the EU Commission from 2019.
"Business as usual" for direct payments and greening
At least in the first pillar of the CAP nothing will change from an environmental point of view. In the spring there had been calls to use this opportunity and to remedy known weaknesses, for example in greening, as early as 2021. Now it is clear that the current rules, for example on ecological priority areas, will be retained and that these will continue to contribute to no significant improvements in biodiversity in the agricultural landscape. For most of the EU's agricultural funding, there will be a two-year standstill.
Fresh money for EAFRD
In the case of the second pillar, which is important for nature conservation, the member states no longer have the option, unlike in the EU Commission's proposal, of shifting funds backwards for the transitional period and using them under the new strategic plan regulation. In itself, this change makes sense: the EU Commission had expected a one-year transition period, but it is now clear that this will last two years. The remaining funds in most Member States might not be sufficient to bridge this longer period and a postponement would lead to high spending pressure in the remaining five years.
About the 2nd pillar
Member States are also required to allocate the same percentage as before to environmental protection measures in the second pillar. In itself, this is good news, as many EU countries, including Germany, already spend more on this than the 30% that is currently mandatory. Without this new requirement, some governments might try to reduce the share to just that 30%. On the other hand, the overall level of environmental spending is likely to fall, as the second pillar will contain less money at EU level in the future. Unfortunately, compensatory payments for disadvantaged areas are widely counted as environmental measures, even though their benefits in this area are hardly demonstrable. It is unclear whether Member States could withdraw funds from the dark green AUCM and invest more in compensatory payments to compensate, which would represent a massive step backwards in environmental terms.
For new contracts with farmers, for example for AUCM, a standard duration of 1 to 3 years is to apply in the transition period. In justified cases, however, member states may deviate upwards. Especially in the case of nature conservation measures, this is likely to be appropriate and agricultural administrations should take this into account when submitting their revised rural development programmes to the EU Commission.
EU reconstruction package
The transitional regulation also regulates the disbursement of agricultural funds from the EU reconstruction package "Next Generation EU". At just under €8 billion, this represents a very small share of the €750 billion programme. The fact that the Council and Parliament are engaged in massive greenwashing hand in hand does not make this situation any better. It is true that 37% of these funds are to be used in the sense of a "green recovery". However, the definition of what exactly green means is stretched to breaking point. In addition to environmental and animal protection measures that can still be well justified, the money is also to flow into areas that only quite remotely have anything to do with environmental protection. These include, once again, the well-known compensation payments for disadvantaged areas. The green recovery of the sector could thus become an air number; the decision on this now lies at the national level.
What happens next
The member states, or in Germany the federal states, must now adapt their EAFRD programmes to take account of the additional duration and the additional funds. They have considerable room for manoeuvre in deciding on the individual issues, be it the duration of the AUCM or, above all, the distribution of funds. It is important that as much money as possible flows into measures that have proven their worth in the past seven years and that there is no shift to light green instruments. In the end, the EU Commission still has to approve the extended plans, but civil society must also be involved in the planning phase through the monitoring committees and demand these points.
In view of the fact that the next two years will not bring us any closer to sustainable agricultural support, the pressure on the strategic plan regulation is also increasing, as the biodiversity and climate crises do not take a break. On Thursday, the negotiators will meet again for the next trilogue and must then finally deliver the important changes that have now been missed.